Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday and the Hunger Games

On Good Friday the Pope will celebrate what is known to Catholics as the Stations of the Cross. The "stations" consist of fourteen meditations on the suffering of Christ. Interestingly enough, the Pope always celebrates this liturgy in the Roman Coliseum. At first glance, such an idea might seem a little unsuitable for such a holy event, until you consider just how unholy the original event was. In fact, it could be said that the spirit at work in the Coliseum was the same at work at Calvary. But it would be wrong to assume that both places were simply the location where people were unceremoniously killed. To the contrary, they were places where people were ceremoniously killed. Both cross and Coliseum were meant to be a spectacle of the highest order. Both existed as a great source of entertainment as well as a deterrent. Most revealing of all was not how cruel these "games" were, but with what lustful enthusiasm men watched these events. Indeed, the most terrifying thing of all was not their sheer brutality, but rather the alien-like detachment of some of the audience members. Some looked on with a sense of blood lust, some laughed, some jeered, and others vented. But whatever the response, what none of them were doing (save a few notable exceptions) was examining their own consciences.

The movie 'The Hunger Games' demonstrates just how this brutality has been updated for your viewing pleasure. A strange hybrid of the Truman Show and Lord of the Flies, this sci-fi instant hit focuses mainly on a group of teenagers who must survive the ultimate reality TV show. Whereas in the past you had to travel to the Coliseum in Rome to see the games, now the  Coliseum/Calvary experience can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own living room (with limited commercial interruptions). In a certain sense it is like the sequel to the Truman Show, for it answers a question that is posed in that particular film; "How will it end?" The Hunger Games offers a chilling answer to that question. Some may regard such artistic prophecies as just that- a fanciful look at the future. But science fiction is not a kind of "made-up reality"; it is our society and its values taken to their logical extreme. As a matter of fact, in many ways the Hunger Games have already become a reality. For example, does anyone dispute that our appetite for "pleasurable horrors" is increasing by the day? Or would anyone deny that governmental surveillance may soon render it impossible to do anything without someone knowing about it (in England now there is an estimated one surveillance camera for every fourteen citizens). Even so, it is not simply the government's fault that these things have come to pass, for we too, much like the people of Rome, have demanded bread and circuses; we too have romanticized this form of voyeurism.

Yet there is perhaps one thing that separates the Coliseum of today from the original. Beyond the manufactured romances, the orchestrated tribulations, or even the adversarial drama, there is one curious detail that is typical of these type of films/realities. In former times men conducted these brutal sports with a kind of practical mindset. No one claimed that what they were doing was in any way virtuous, only that certain lives were more expendable than others, and that on occasion such expedients were necessary. By contrast, today we do try to argue that our brutality is virtuous and there are any number of euphemisms that prove this point (for examples see previous blog on Euphemisms). From Big Brother in 1984, to the N.I.C.E in Lewis' space trilogy, to the so called "tributes" whose names have been chosen from a "lottery" in the Hunger Games, such misleading language is the staple of every dystopian society. What this all indirectly reveals (whether the euphemism occurs in a sci-fi movie, or in everyday life) is that we know we are guilty, and so as a result we are making a painful attempt to call our guilt by a virtuous name. Why else would we go to such lengths to "pretty-up" things that are so ugly? Why else would we try to make oppression, death, totalitarianism sound so delightful? Much like Pilate, we have washed our hands in the soothing ablution of dishonest euphemisms. Indeed, we have admitted our guilt by shifting the blame. And so the cross looms over history like an immovable object dividing us into two camps- those that acknowledge their guilt, and those who prefer to call it by a less ignoble name.